You would think that Wednesday’s stunning loss to the Chicago Fire would be a game the Red Bulls would like to forget and move on. Just a little bump in the road during a great season. The game tape? Throw it away and move forward.
But not this year. There are things to learn, even from that 3-2 loss.
“It would be unwise to write the game off only from a sense that we should take every game as a learning experience regardless if it’s a win or a loss because we haven’t played the perfect game yet,” Robles said. “Our sharpness wasn’t there. I want to say that the effort was there, and really, until that third goal the game could have gone either way.
“It could have even ended up in a tie. … There were a lot of positives. Even when our technical ability wasn’t on point the guys were still busting their butt. They were still working hard up to the last minute.”
After taking a 1-0 lead on an early penalty kick the Red Bulls suddenly lost their shape on defense and their high-pressure game never materialized. It was the Fire that pressed and forced the Red Bulls into mistakes, which led to two goals.
“I saw a lot of positives,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “I thought Luis was good, I thought Ronald (Zubar) had a good game. It was good to get him 90 minutes. I thought Gonzalo (Veron) came on the field and helped again. We still went on the road and scored two goals, so even though we gave up three, which has been uncharacteristic of us lately, I still think there were a lot of little positives in that game. In the end, Chicago was good on the night, too.
“I know that everybody looks at the standings and thinks, ‘Oh, New York’s in second and Chicago is in last and this will be New York’s game’, but it’s not the way it works in this league. It’s never easy to get results on the road and all teams are capable of playing well at any moment, and all teams are capable of playing poorly at any moment.”
The Red Bulls played without defender Damien Perrinelle, who was sitting out the second game of a two-game suspension for a foul against New York City FC Aug. 9. It was a helpless feeling watching the game on television and knowing his presence on the field could have made a difference.
“It wasn’t only the defense for me. The team maybe was a little bit down compared to the game before,” Perrinelle said. “One of the things I appreciate is to see Ronald in the 11. He worked so hard to come back and he played a decent game. Otherwise, it was tough to see your teammates suffer like that.”
Perrinelle also believes there was a bit of a letdown following the 3-0 thrashing of a high-powered Toronto FC team Aug. 15 at Red Bull Arena.
“We played Toronto with big names, big stars, and our motivation was 200 percent,” he said. “And then you play a team like Chicago, and you know they have good forward players that are really fast, and the way that they play can hurt us at times because we leave so much space in our back. It’s not easy. We have to find the balance. The good thing in MLS is that we play against them one more time in the next game. It’s only one defeat. It’s not the end of the world.”
Dax McCarty, however, didn’t feel there was a mental letdown in playing a last-place team, and he didn’t believe everyone was looking ahead to the showdown with D.C. United on Sunday. He was encouraged by the effort, but felt the team was out of sync.
“The explanation is we were ready to play. We had the right mentality. I thought from the get-go we had enough fight and the will to win the game,” the captain said. “We just didn’t have enough quality. Defensively, we were all over the place. It seemed like every time they came at us we were scrambling. We weren’t communicating, no one was sliding properly, and with the ball coming out of the back into the midfield and into the attacking third we just weren’t good enough.
“Everyone had too many sloppy giveaways, too many sloppy turnovers, two turnovers that led directly to goals, and when you do that to yourself on the road you’re never going to win games. We had the right mentality, we had the right mindset. We just weren’t good enough on the night.
“We would have liked to win the game. That was the goal. It was a winnable game. The narrative is that this is a game New York should win because Chicago is in last place, but we knew that that’s not always the case. We knew they were a good team. We knew they were going to come and give us everything they had. We always get the best from every team. I think we’ve earned that respect. Teams come and try and give us the best game they can give us. We knew it was not going to be easy.”
So the Red Bulls move forward. The game against D.C. United at Red Bull Arena will no longer be an opportunity to move into first place with a victory over the team’s biggest rival. But they can move within two points, and they still have games in hand.
“Maybe it was good we got a bad game out of the way before the last 10 games,” McCarty said. “Certainly, it wasn’t our best night. In that sense it’s good. In terms of looking to D.C., whether we won or lost we were always going to have the same mentality going into the D.C. game.
“It’s a huge game, the biggest game of the season up to this point. It’s an important game to win for our fans and for the standings. If they win they’re going to pull away from us a bit. We want to make sure we keep that gap close.”